Friday, January 13, 2012

Composers Datebook for January 13, 2012


Produced in association with the American Composers Forum

Friday, January 13

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Stravinsky at the circus

Late in 1941, the Russian composer, Igor Stravinsky, was living in Hollywood -- at 1260 North Wetherly Drive, to be precise.

Notoriously unflappable, and eminently practical when it came to commissions, Stravinsky apparently did not even bat an eye when he received a phone call from the choreographer, Georges Balanchine, with an offer from Barnum's Circus to write a short musical work for a ballet involving elephants. Again, to be precise, for Barnum's star elephant ballerina, named Modoc, who would be accompanied by fifty other elephants and dancers, all in tutus.

"For what?" Stravinsky asked.
"For elephants," said Balanchine.
"How many?" countered Stravinsky.
"A lot," replied Balanchine
"How old?" asked Stravinsky
"Young," assured Balanchine.
"Well, if they're young, I accept," concluded Stravinsky.

Stravinsky's work, entitled "Circus Polka," had its debut at Madison Square Garden in New York by the Barnum Circus, and was performed by what Stravinsky once called their "respectable quadrupeds" some 400 times.

Stravinsky then arranged his "Circus Polka" for symphony orchestra, and conducted the premiere of that version (minus the elephants) with the Boston Symphony in Cambridge, Massachusetts, on today's date in 1944.

Music Played on Today's Program:

Igor Stravinsky
(1882 - 1971):
Circus Polka
London Symphony;
Michael Tilson Thomas, cond.
RCA 68865

Additional Information:

On Stravinsky

About the Program
Composers Datebook is a daily program about composers of the past and present, hosted by John Zech.

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